Vietnamese ‘Masters of Managing Blindness’ continue to inspire

By Grace Mishler

I felt God’s divine grace come upon me as my “Masters of Managing Blindness,” Nguyen Quoc Phong and Tran Ba Thien, sat at the table with me, enjoying Vietnamese coffee.

Phong and I have known each other since 2002. Phong shared how he traveled through 20 countries alone with his blindness. He recently retired as director of Tien An Blind School, where 30 boys and girls have attended for orientation and to seek higher education. Thanks to Phong’s leadership as a mentor, coach, and trainer, the students have excelled in universities in Vietnam and abroad. Currently, Phong keeps in contact with Hadley School for the Blind in Illinois and is translating instruction books for teaching Braille in the Vietnamese language.

One of Phong’s students, named Howah, was a singer once rejected by a school of music because he was blind. Later, they accepted him into the school and now he is a professor of music.

Another of his students, Phi, received a cornea transplant in one eye. Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren funded his surgery. Phi graduated from high school in his md-20s. For years he stayed home, isolated from school. Then he had the opportunity to come to live in Ho Chi Minh City at the Tien An Blind School. Today, Phi is now legal guardian at the school.

My other “Master of Managing Blindness” is Tran Ba Tien. We learned to know each other in 2001 when the Pearl Buck Foundation needed volunteers to train teachers in mainstreaming students with disabilities into regular classrooms. Out of this practice experience, Tran Ba Thien and I engaged in Asia Pacific Leadership Training in developing self-help groups.

The two “Masters of Managing Blindness” enjoying coffee with Grace Mishler (at left) and friends at a café in Ho Chi Minh city in late November. At center is Nguyen Quoc Phong and at right Tran Ba Thien. Between them is Mr. Cat, former director of a Blind Association outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Grace Mishler

Please pray…. For the Vietnam Eye Project and for the children and families it serves. The Vietnam Eye Project is related to the Church of the Brethren Global Mission.

Tran Ba Tien became blind from a landmine explosion as a university student. He was studying sociology. He continued to master his studies using computer adaptive devices to navigate his world. He is a social activist working all over Vietnam, advocating for the needs of people with disabilities. Like Phong, he has traveled alone to the United States. During the COVID pandemic, he has helped to deliver and network food supplies to over 1000 blind people in five different provinces.

These Vietnamese masters exemplify par excellence the dedication to service work through improving the society in Vietnam. Our reunion was full of joy–we were united again in a sacred time in our lives. We never imagined that we would see each other again. We thanked God as we prayed together.

— Grace Mishler, MSW, is a former Church of the Brethren program volunteer with Global Mission. She previously worked in Vietnam for many years, and is continuing her involvement with the Vietnam Eye Project through short visits to the country.


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